Who is he?
Niwatthamrong Boonsonpaisan was until today deputy prime minister and commerce minister in the government of Thailand’s caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. He is known for having close ties with Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. His affiliation with Thaksin began in 1990 when he became manager at a computer firm owned by Thaksin. He subsequently rose to become a director at Shin Corp – the conglomerate owned by the Shinawatra family – and chief executive officer of the now defunct iTV news station, which Thaksin bought following the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Niwatthamrong entered politics in 2011 as a Pheu Thai candidate and in 2012 was appointed minister in the prime minister’s office overseeing public relations and media affairs. In June 2013, Niwatthamrong was appointed commerce minister. He was known as a key player in the rice subsidy scheme championed by Yingluck, which cost the government billions of dollars.
Why is he in the news?
Niwatthamrong was appointed acting caretaker prime minister on May 7, shortly after the Constitutional Court ordered the removal of Yingluck from office for the unlawful transfer of former National Security Council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri in 2011. Nine other ministers were removed along with Yingluck, but Niwatthamrong survived because he was reportedly not involved in the transfer of Thawil. In his new capacity, Niwatthamrong will continue to hold the portfolio of commerce minister.
What can we expect?
Niwatthamrong will play a central role in the new caretaker government’s efforts to see through the Election Commission’s declaration that a new round of elections will take place on July 20. As one of the architects of the government’s disastrous rice subsidy scheme, Niwatthamrong will also play a central role in trying to clean up the mess it has left behind.